Legendary actress and comedian Betty White passed away in her sleep on Dec. 31, just 17 days before her 100th birthday. The icon leaves behind a legacy that will not be forgotten.
It all began on Jan. 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois when Betty Marion White was born to her parents, Tess Curtis and Horace Logan White. From there, her family moved to California where she lived an average childhood in the midst of the Great Depression.
They occasionally took family trips to the mountain range, Sierra Nevada. It was through these trips that White decided she wanted to be a park ranger. Unfortunately, at that time women were not able to become forest rangers, so she set her sights on writing. It was when she wrote and starred in her senior high school show that she discovered a love for performing.
Soon after graduation, she began to sing for the television show “The Merry Widow.” During this time she had also found herself pursuing modeling and acting gigs. Her budding career was put on hold, however, when America entered into World War II.
Doing her part to serve her country, White joined the American Women’s Voluntary Service. In this role, she drove PX trucks throughout Los Angeles picking up and delivering military supplies to various locations. When she wasn’t doing that, she continued to perform through songs and dances for the military men who would soon be shipped overseas.
After the war, White turned her sights back on stardom but could seldom find work on big productions after being deemed by many studios as “unphotogenic.” In response, she entered the world of radio where appearances didn’t matter.
She appeared in various shows for radio networks, many times receiving little to no pay for her performances before she was given her own program, “The Betty White Show.” She also began to co-host “Hollywood on Television,” before taking it over entirely after her co-host left.
At the same time, she teamed up with writer, George Tibbles, and producer, Don Fenderson, to co-found Brandy Productions. Soon the company would produce “Life with Elizabeth,” making White the first woman to produce a sitcom.
“The Betty White Show,” previously a radio show for KLAC-TV, became her first television show with NBC in 1954. This show was unusual for the time, as White had elected to hire a female director and feature African-American tap dancer, Arthur Duncan. The show carried a heavy target on its back for those decisions. Several Jim Crow states even threatened to boycott the show unless Duncan was removed. White’s response?
“I’m sorry. Live with it.”
She proceeded to grant Duncan even more airtime.
It was around this same time and at the conclusion of “Life with Elizabeth” that White began playing Vicki Angel on the ABC show “Date with the Angels.” There she would meet her lifetime friend, the legendary “I Love Lucy” actress, Lucille Ball. The two bonded over their feminist success within the male-dominated field and leaned on each other through divorce and criticism alike.
The next chapter of her career would include appearances on a variety of game shows such as “What’s My Line?” “Match Game,” and “Password.” She made a few other film appearances before being offered a position at “The Today Show.”
She turned down the position, claiming she did not want to permanently move to New York where the show was filmed, leaving the position open for famous journalist Barbara Walters.
In 1985, White would perform in arguably her most notable role as Rose Nylund in the hit sitcom, “Golden Girls.” The character, a naive farm girl from Minnesota, was the light of the room. Her dialogue often worked to break up heavy moments or to cheer up a fellow character, much as the real Betty White would. The show ran until 1992, but following its finale, White revamped her role in the spin-off show “The Golden Palace” as well as NBC shows “Nurses” and “Empty Nest.”
Other notable roles included Ann Douglas in the soap opera, “The Bold and The Beautiful,” Grandma Annie in the romantic comedy “The Proposal,” Beatrice Sigurdson in the sitcom “That ‘70s Show,” Catherine Piper in the comedy-drama series “Boston Legal,” and Elka Ostrovsky in the sitcom “Hot in Cleveland.”
Over the course of her career, she received 79 nominations for various awards, securing almost half of them. This included five Primetime Emmy Awards, three American Comedy Awards, two Daytime Emmy Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Teen Choice Award.
She helped to employ, uplift and inspire hundreds of women during a time when many found themselves looked down upon. She opened doors previously closed off to women, overcame great obstacles professionally and walked into each situation with a bit of optimism.
She lived each day the way she wanted to and after looking back at her life she remarked: “I have no regrets at all; none. I consider myself to be the luckiest broad on two feet.”
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